Government Affairs fun!


If you are a self-proclaimed “policy geek,” then you, like me, will love hearing about APhA’s Government Affairs (GA) work. While provider status remains a mainstage topic, the evolving health policy landscape keeps the GA team busy year round.

Although so many people in Washington, DC, work in policy, I have found that few people, my closest friends and family included, have a clear idea of what it means to do health policy work at APhA. So what does it mean? Do I spend my days reading legislation and proposed rules? The answer is yes, at times. But there is much more to it. 

Identifying issues

One of the first lessons I learned at APhA is that there are many ways pharmacists’ work can influence, and be influenced by, health policy. Among my first projects was deciphering a dense and nuanced proposed rule regarding management standards for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that was issued by the Environment Protection Agency. 

The proposed rule aims to prevent hazardous waste disposal via sewering and creates management and disposal standards. After spending time sifting through the proposed rule, the public health and practical implications became clear, but understanding how and why these changes matter to pharmacists was not immediately apparent. 

As pharmacists know, not every workplace is the same and pharmacists can wear many hats. From a policy standpoint, this means trying to figure out the best way to achieve a policy aspiration while considering the needs of different pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, the health care industry, and patients. 

So my next step, after reviewing relevant APhA House of Delegates policy on the issue and getting to know the intricacies of the proposed rule, is to research. Generally, a lot of time is spent researching to cover all my bases. I may not be an expert on every topic, but I work hard to learn as much as I can in a limited timeframe. Once I have a good handle on the proposed rule and potential issues, I communicate that information to our members and highlight the portions that will likely have implications for pharmacists. Then I rely on member feedback. 

Connecting with members

If you attended APhA2016 in Baltimore, then you may have noticed that APhA’s members are engaged and excited to be involved. That makes my work, learning what matters to members and why, much easier! One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to learn from pharmacists across the country. By working through the APhA Engage platform and connecting directly with members, I listen to their concerns and communicate those concerns to rule makers and legislators. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of member engagement. And I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and discussing my role with new practitioners and student pharmacists during the APhA2016 New Practitioner Network Advocacy and Leadership session.

I encourage members, including student pharmacists, to work with the GA team and get involved with APhA. 

Communicating APhA’s position

Once we receive member feedback, our comments and responses take shape. Members help us identify the issues that are most important, which is an essential part of accurately communicating pharmacists’ needs and concerns. Communicating APhA’s position can happen in many ways, such as formal comments submitted to the appropriate docket, a letter sent directly to a federal agency or member of Congress, or an in-person meeting. We also work to communicate legislative and regulatory updates to members via a monthly e-mail, a session at the APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition, and through online articles or press 

Being proactive 

Another important part of health policy work at APhA is identifying issues, or potential issues, early. To me, this means keeping up-to-date on the latest trends, news, cases, and reports from different sectors within the health care industry. By tracking issues, APhA can be proactive in its strategy and decisions. In addition, we also try to be proactive by educating pharmacists. 

In many of our comment letters, we discuss the importance of educating health care professionals and patients. So we took a proactive approach to our own suggestion and launched an Opioid Use, Abuse and Misuse Resource Center, which provides tools and other educational resources to help pharmacists in this area.

So now that you know, generally, what a health policy geek does on a daily basis, you will not only impress all of your friends at dinner parties, but also (I hope) feel comfortable getting involved in policy work at APhA!